The identity crises – work in progress

13/09/2010

Pakistan has 97% Muslim population and yet people here feel insecure of their Muslim identity. Punjab government has constituted a committee to see if Hindu Mythology cartoons can be banned in Pakistan. Their stated reason was: “cartoons which glorified mythology characters such as Hanuman had a bad impact on the minds of the young children”. It is ironical since a larger number of Muslim children live in India than in Pakistan. Muslims in India see Hindu cartoons and celebrate Hindu festivals and yet are never intimidated by them.

Some supporters will argue that Pakistan is different as we are a Muslim country, an Islamic Republic and hence things should be different here than elsewhere. They would say that Pakistan was made in the name of Islam and hence showing Hindu Cartoons are against the spirit of Pakistan’s Islamic identity. This is probably the reason why buildings, parks, streets and cities in Pakistan were renamed to sound Islamic from their original Christian and Hindu names. As if buildings have faith and that they were converted to Islam by renaming.

Any discussions on having a secular Pakistan has always received an opposition. The word ‘secular’ is somehow translated as anti-Islamic here. Recently, Chief Justice of Pakistan remarked, “if parliament amended the constitution and declared Pakistan a secular state, should the court remain silent and not take notice of this unlimited power of parliament?” In other words Chief Justice has given concept of having an Islamic State precedence over democracy, disregarding the fact that it was the parliament that gave Pakistan its current Islamic identity in 1971 constitution and not other way around.

Pakistan was not an Islamic Republic at the time of partition. It was few years after the death of its founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah that it was first named as Islamic Republic. Jinnah wanted a secular Pakistan, as it was indicated in his August 11, 1947 speech, where he favoured  separation of state and religion. Jinnah said: “in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State”. It was only under General Zia ul Haq dictatorship when many of our existing draconian laws were introduce in the name of Islam. From the get go, Islamic scholars had disagreements on interpretation of Islamic laws endorsed by Zia.

The civil society by large has opposed the implantation of religious laws and have advocated for the separation of religion and state. Those who support secular law for Pakistan argues that it is impossible to run a modern state in the 21st century on 1400 years old rules. These rules are inadequate for the challenges that a modern state face. The situation here in Pakistan today is far different and much complexed from what it was in Prophet’s Arabia. They argue that  religious laws are fixed and dogmatic, while secular laws are easily evolved to cater societal changes.

Moreover, they also bank their case on the fact that Islam does not have a uniform interpretation. The discrepancies in interpretation of Islamic laws among various sects are highlighted to demonstrate that adoption of religious law will only isolate the sects and the followers of minority religions. Those favouring secular law argue that introduction of Islamic laws has only polarized the society resulting in the high sectoral violence in the country.

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2 Responses to “The identity crises – work in progress”

  1. Areefa said

    Well articulated article and i completely endorse the argument. I am in love with this statement, “As if buildings have faith and that they were converted to Islam by renaming.”

    Seriously in past 63 yrs we have done so many deadly action undertaken without thought that leave Pakistanis like me ashamed & humiliated. As Muslim, we expect that other religion(s) to be tolerant of us but how about we, Muslims, being tolerant of all the rest.

  2. Faruque Malik said

    The irony of Pakistan being converted into an “islamic republic” can be traced from the loss of mughal kingdom, the struggle of independence and to the creation of “Muslim League”, and the way religion was ployed to exploit the ordinary people.

    This ploy was again used for destroying the “infidel soviet empire”.

    Our society has a long way to go to liberalize itself. Efforts shall NOT be made by our society. A duration of TIME shall only liberalize the society.

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